This week NASA launched Curiosity, the new Mars rover, to explore the mysteries of the red planet. For millennia, we've gazed in wonder at the stars above our heads. Curiosity is intrinsic to our nature. As children, we naturally reach out to explore our world. Creative individuals--artists and scientists--never lose this intrinsic curiosity.
Years ago as a college student at UC Riverside, I saw this quality in Linus Pauling when he spoke to a group of students gathered on the campus lawn. His blue eyes sparkled as he told us about his life as a scientist--following his curiosity, exploring new ideas. It was late afternoon. The sun's parting rays were at his back, but he had his own light, radiating exuberant energy and the joy of discovery. His bright spirit has been an inspiration for me ever since.
Curiosity lights our lives, inspires us to seek out answers. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that a "hungry mind" is as significant as intelligence and effort in determining academic performance (von Strumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011). Always asking "Why?" intrinsically curious students are motivated not by test scores and grades, but by their own hunger for answers. I recall one student, Michael, whose persistent questions impressed some of his professors but annoyed many others--he even made one of them cry. Michael went on to medical school, becoming a successful researcher. Finding new treatments for diseases, he's still asking questions, still wondering "Why?"
Curiosity, according to Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, is one of the twenty-four character strengths and virtues common to humankind. It is positively correlated with creativity, intelligence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, a sense of personal control, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. It is also associated with positive affect, subjective well-being, better long-term health, longevity, and positive interpersonal relationships. Curiosity can be blocked by anxiety, guilt, and self-consciousness, but you can strengthen it with practice (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
What are you curious about? What new galaxies would you like to explore? By following your curiosity, pursuing meaningful challenges, you can experience new levels of joy and fulfillment.
Von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 574-588.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. Curiosity. (pp. 125-141). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.